Estella Kaelber

Estella Yvonne "Yvonne" Kaelber (Peterson)

Saturday, February 6th, 1937 - Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020
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Hey Mom,

The best way to remember you is to write you a long missive per your lifetime practice of writing long letters and emails to people in your tribe. It's one of the things we'll miss most about you being gone...long letters, emails, and cards with writing on all three sides. That, and long conversations that wind and loop around until we're so lost in whatever we're discussing that the rest of the world and all troubles fall away. You were so good at that... letting troubles fall away and being present in the moment. You were always present in the moment.

What’s that you ask? Where have you gone?


Well. Only you can answer that. But…

From this side of the Universe, here’s what happened:

After a beautifully bumpy, topsy, turvy, love and laughter-filled life, you pass away quietly on Tuesday night. Yes, that was September 22, 2020. You miss Tara’s and Priscilla’s birthdays. You plan that so that we would always be celebrating life instead of death, we think…

You always have tried to heal us when we were broken.

Yep. Yes. Exactly.

Your lungs are ultimately you say… “took you out.” And yes, the Alzheimer’s had gotten worse. But we still see you in there. You still are able to rip off one-liners that bring us to tears. You still care deeply about your family. You still are able to find peace and solace in the simplicity to which your life has been distilled. You still give us advice...because you know we'll always need your wisdom. Even now.

Right. So yes. We knew it was coming.


Oh, yes. You are on hospice care. And they had kind of given us some idea of when things would happen. But they were totally wrong.

What? Why?

Oh, because, you know, you have always been a woman of determination, and will, and independence. Your indomitable spirit decides that it is time to go sooner than they said. But we’d had our “tell you everything we want you to know, thank you for being an amazing mom and wife” conversations with you. Whether that’s what you were waiting for; or, whether you just plain up and got tired, flipped the peace sign, and checked out, only you will ever know.

But, well, if you were exhausted, who could blame you? You have been running and running and running forever...probably you came out of the womb running... Maybe? Right? You always said you came out with hot feet.


Oh. That’s not what that means? Well, anyway, you’ve been running and are determined to make your world and the world of those you love a better place since your borning cry on February 6, 1937. Did you know that the sixth of February is the 37th day? That had to be some kind of numerology good luck. You’ve said over and over again that you were the luckiest woman alive. So maybe that’s why? Oh, and for the record, that was a Saturday. It always makes sense now why you were a Saturday person.

Have you seen your mom and dad yet? You’re all together now, right? Sure. Yes. Anyone reading this might want to know…

Parents: Vernon and Myrtle (Pike) Peterson.

Did you just ask how we’re doing?

Legit LOL’ing. Only you could ask that question in such a genuine way not realizing how crushed we would all be when you left.

Yeah, so, pretty much we’re devastated, destroyed, and decimated.

How could you even ask "why"?

That’s like asking “is water wet”?

Sorry. Sorry. Definitely didn’t mean to be rude. But it was a silly question. You were the glue, the sauce, the tie, the binder clip, the staple, the were the thing that was holding our lives together. And no, we’re not kidding. You are the hero of your own story.

But have you seen them? Your parents? Yes? Good!

Did you catch up with Ed?

How bout Mary? Nadine? Betty? Ruth?

That just made us smile. We’re so glad you’ve found them all. Found your people.

You were always a collector of souls.

What does that mean?

You know. The door of your heart is always flung wide to souls who call to you.

Not sure how you know, but you somehow always do, that someone needs a little extra. A little extra love, time, attention, a kind word, a card with a totally spot on quote clipped from a magazine, a hot meal, a hug.

Oh man did you give the best, best hugs. Like, yeah, you said that you always wanted to be more demonstrative than your parents were...pretty sure you got that hugging thing down pat. We hope you hugged them until they squirmed. LOL. Those hugs of yours are going to be so, so very much missed. We're going to miss you digging in like a tick and not letting go. It’s like you took any sorrow or worry away with those hugs.


Oh Mom, we miss you so much already! There’s this empty crater where the “living you” is supposed to be. It’s just dark and filled with loss and lost-ness. It sucks, frankly.

We know. We know. We don’t blame you for leaving. You had to go. God saw how tired you were. He swung the gates open and said, “Good job, Faithful Servant. Welcome home, Yvonne.”

We. Co-sign. God.

Yep. Of course we're crying. But we can suck it up.

So you’re a soul collector. We just want anyone reading this to know how much you give of yourself, always and freely. Your people never hesitate to call you in a time of need. And you never hesitate to pick up. You always prevail with a cool head and a very warm heart. You’d answer the phone at all hours, listen for hours, like really, really listen, not just the kind of listening where you’re waiting for an opportunity to jump in yourself. And then when your person is done, only then do you respond.

Please stop interrupting, Ma. We’re not embellishing.

So, can we tell everyone about you now? Is that okay? We mean, we know you’re not one for attention, but we're kind of ready to drop it all down about you and your beautiful soul. Can we do that?

LOL. Well, that was a begrudging "yes." We know you only agreed because you know we were going to do it anyway.

So, here we go.

Maybe every kid thinks their mom walks on water, but ours really did. Frozen and wet. She water-skied. She snow-skied. She and the love of her life taught their kids to do the same.

Shoot. Yeah. Right. We should start a little farther back. Because maybe someone reading this has no idea who the love of your life is or how he came into your life.

So let’s back up. Wayyyyy back.

Yvonne’s parents move around...a lot. Like AAAA LOT. So after bouncing around a ton of schools, she was over-joyed to spend the last three years of high school in one place, graduating from Lodi High School in 1954. She loved school. She loved learning. She knew that education was the way for her to make a good life.

Her dad, bless his soul, did not believe in education, so Yvonne worked three jobs to pay for tuition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Though, she will conspiratorially tell you that her mom (a graduate of Wisconsin Teacher’s College) tried to help her where she could. Because unlike her dad, her mom did actually believe in education. So onto Madison Yvonne goes in the fall of 1954. She loves everything about living in a dorm, being on campus, learning. She loves learning. That’s been said already, but cannot be emphasized enough because that love of learning carries through and weaves itself into the fabric of her entire life.

So she’s at Madison. Doing her own thing. Creating her own jam. Majoring in Business Administration with an emphasis on accounting. And then she returns from Spring Break in 1955 and her friend yells down the hall asking if anyone is interested in a blind date.

Yvonne thinks (quickly, because that’s how her mind is) “No homework. Sunday night. Late class. Perfect.” And then she yells back, “I’m in!” Well, we really don’t know what she yells back, but that’s not important.

Here’s what is. Here’s what changes the course of her entire life...the next sixty-five years of it.

“Who are the fellows?” she also yells.

“Well, there’s Ron Labott and Don Kaelber.”

And Yvonne, again with the quick thinking, replies, “Well, I know Ron Labott. So I’ll take the other guy.”

Sorry, Uncle Ronnie.

And so they go. Out, that is. We still can’t get a straight answer as to where they went, what they did, or how it ended. But what we know is that at the end of the night, Don asks, “Can I call you to go out next weekend?” And she says, “Yes.”

But then… the next night, he calls. And breaking all the rules of dating, they go out that night. And the next. And the next. And the next. And pretty much most nights after that. And the rest, as they say, is history.


Oh right, Mom.

She wants us to tell you that she is the happiest woman. She gets the man of her dreams and the life that she pretends to have when she played with her paper dolls as a kid.

So they keep up a wild (by 1950’s standards) romance and by December 1956, they are engaged and she is giddily sporting a rock. That’s probably the only time anyone will ever describe Yvonne as giddy. But she often tells the story of flashing that ring whenever she could. She is just so happy.

Boy meets girl. They date. They get engaged. And then they get married on September 7, 1957. She is a beautiful bride. Like truly beautiful.

But just because she’s got the man, she ain’t giving up on her education. They move to Kenosha. She transfers to UWM. Walks to the train station everyday and commutes to Milwaukee. Somewhere around April,1958, she’s not feeling so hot. And well, as these things do happen to newlyweds, she’s pregnant!


Yes. But.

She’s not giving up on her education. She pushes through morning sickness, at one point tossing her rainbow cookies into a garbage can in the hallway at UWM. She always said she felt so sorry for the janitor having to clean that up… That’s the kind of person she is...she’s sick to the point of vomiting but she’s worried about the person who has to clean it up.

What, Mom? Yeah, we know. If we keep going into every detail, we’ll be here forever.

So what should we tell them?

Sure, we can do that. (She asked us to abbreviate and move along quickly. She hates the attention.).

She graduates with honors. Incidentally, she is the only woman to graduate in her degree program that year. Later she goes to Carthage College for her education degree. She has five kids, all of whom she has said have brought her and Don “joy and pain.” But of whom she is proud. “Extremely,” she says, “Underline that.” And later, she completely falls in love with her eight intelligent, kind, and driven grandchildren.

As those kids grow and become real human beings, she and Don purchase a lake house and then move to a second. That’s where they meet other lake folk interested in starting a water ski show team. So they do. The Aquanuts is born in 1972. At which point, our Yvonne, beloved collector of souls, throws the doors open to the summer cottage, collecting souls like rain drops in a bucket. If any kid needs an ear, a meal, a hug, a ride home, or just a smile so they know they are seen, she gives it.

The summer cottage turns into a whole new world. Between the ski team and her tutoring kids how to read, she has found her groove.

She wastes nothing. Her mother teaches her that. Don’t waste your time, talent, education, tears, life. Just don’t waste it. And she never does. If she has anything to give, she gives it. She becomes treasurer of the ski team. She takes leadership positions in the AAUW and the Kenosha Choir Boosters. She becomes a member of the Kenosha Historical Society, Friends of the Kenosha Public Museum, Friends of the Kenosha Library, and Friends of the Lighthouse.

She serves in various show ski official roles: Secretary of the Wisconsin Water Ski Federation, Certified Tournament Scorer, Tournament Chairman, and becomes an Honorary Lifetime Member of Aquanut Water Shows.

She worked, as noted, three jobs in college. And then later she works as a secretary at the First Presbyterian Church for almost ten years. Then serves as an administrative assistant at the Kenosha Hospital.

She saves *everything.* And ninety percent of the time, all the stuff she saves winds up being used somewhere, at some point, in the future.

But that burning desire not to throw in the towel because she had the man of her dreams or that first baby on the way? That burning desire to learn, to be educated? It spills over into everything. Into teaching her kids how to read and instilling in them and her grandchildren a life-long love of reading, to learning how to needlepoint and cross-stitch, to weaving amazing baskets, to doing calligraphy. She teaches herself to garden, and to sew, and to paint, and to scrapbook. She teaches Bible School. She opens up worlds teaching kids, not her own, to read. She learns about flowers and birds. And she knows every bird call.

She learns how to flip her crazy huge, vinyl record collection onto cassette tapes so she can take her love of music wherever she goes.

Right, Ma. We gotta talk about music. If we don’t we’re skipping over a HUGE part of your life.

Though she will tell you she couldn’t hold a tune in a tin can, that’s not true. She can sing. It brings her joy. For a while, after her strokes, singing is the only way she can communicate verbally.

Right, sorry, Mom. Moving along.

She is a fan of everything...classical, jazz, rock, country, and punk...yes, punk...and, yes, country. Who could forget driving through The Smoky Mountains in the van pulling the ski boat on the way to Florida? It’s the middle of the night, she always takes the night shift; and always, always, she has The Outlaws playing through The Smokies. And then she switches to The Ramones, The Clash, Devo, and The Police. The Beatles are big for her. She loves “Yellow Submarine.” Musicals. Christmas music. Kids music. You name it. It seems like growing up, there is always music playing in our house.

Hey, do you remember dancing around in the kitchen to “Put Another Log on the Fire”? You wore that fuzzy pink bathrobe? Oh man, that’s one of our favorite memories!

Her vinyl collection is a thing of beauty. Pink Floyd, Patsy Cline, Barbara Streisand, plus everything we talked about above, and geez, so much more. Charlie Daniels, The Sex Pistols, The Sound of Music, The King and I, Annie, John Denver, The Kinks, The Beach Boys, Harry Chapin...all of it!

Treks to music stores are such a wild ride!

Her and Don’s love of music fosters everyone else’s. All her kids love music. And even if they don’t like all of it, they learn from them to appreciate it.

Yes. Yes. That was next, Ma.

She told us not to forget to add Christian Rock to the list. And that happened because in 2001, she and Don become charter members of Spirit Alive Church! She joins the women’s bible study and the book club. She bakes countless loaves of unleavened bread for communion. She collects souls and friends and hope. And, yes, she falls in love with Christian Rock music. The service is contemporary and the music matches. She is hooked almost immediately. Finding Spirit Alive is one of the best things for her and Don. They find a home in the arms of God. They find community. And in a way, they find each other again.

She and Don travel.

What, Mom?

No, we know. Not extensively. Not as much as some couples. But you did. You traveled. We think when we did it a few years ago, we figured out that you and Dad only had like five or six states that you hadn’t been to. So, you know, that seems like a lot of travel to us.

Right. Yes. We’ll tell them.

She wants you to know that their Alaska cruise is her favorite trip. It is two whole weeks of just her and Don. It is a completely different adventure from any other they’ve had. She calls it “the trip of a lifetime.” And it truly is. She says she’ll always remember the flowers that were everywhere in Alaska. But the glaciers and the sled dogs and the train to Denali are things she talks about often. But seriously, if we’re being totally honest, we think the trip was just as much about who she was with as the sights they saw together.

Sorry, Mom. It’s true.

She also combines her love of travel with her love of learning. Every Fall for a very long time, she roadtrips with her great friends, Ginger, Betty, and Nadine to Stratford, Canada for the Shakespeare Festival. They see about seven plays in a week. Can you imagine? That’s a lot of Shakespeare. She sees almost every Shakespeare play, noting that some of them just really aren’t that good.

Speaking of plays, oh man, how many times do she and Don take the kids to Chicago or Milwaukee to see a play or musical? Like dozens? And then every summer, she and Lora head up to APT for more Shakespeare, Shaw, and Molière.

She loves live theater.

Plus, she and Don had season tickets to Lincolnshire for years. Phantom of the Opera is one of her favorites. And Miss Saigon, she loves that one, too. But she likes the smaller, more intimate productions, as well. The Patsy Cline Story that she and Don and Lora see at The Stackner has her reminiscing for days.

What we’re trying to say is that Yvonne is open to everything, new things, old things, everyday things. She just wants to be moving and doing and learning and seeing. She never stops. Even in these last years where that is harder, she still paints and explores. She loves being read to.

If you’re still reading, we hope you’re getting a good sense of who Yvonne was and how she’ll live on in everyone who’s ever spent any time with her.

We haven’t, we think, spoken enough about the love that she and Don share. In her journal entries, the few that there were, every single one notes how lucky she is to have found Don. That she is blessed that they’ve been able to raise their kids with love and affection. That their kids would always know they are loved. She says that she is joyful that Don always indulges her and denies her nothing. But, it should be noted that Yvonne being the frugal woman she is, never asks for anything insane. Even when they purchase the house of her dreams, she is cautious, making sure they have enough money not to be house poor, before actually getting truly excited.

And we can say that in the last six years, if anyone, anywhere ever doubted how much they love each other, those doubts are annihilated. As Yvonne’s life is distilled down to the simplest things, the best thing in her life is Don. The smile she throws him the first time she sees him during the day would melt your heart.

Oh Mom, come on, that’s not embarrassing. That’s inspiring. To be able to hold on to that love during grave illness is a gift.

Anyway, it would. It really would melt your heart. And continuing their life-long devotion to each other, Don never flinches. They both roll with every loss...loss of life-long shared memories, not always knowing who he is, inability to speak after a stroke, loss of her ability to walk on her own...every single loss comes, they mourn it together, and employ the motto “Forward.”

Always forward.

Still. We’re just not capturing their love quite right.

Agape. The love of God through humans. That’s it. That’s what they had. There’s really no other way to describe it. When she looks at him and lights up, he is her whole world. And when he sees that smile, he sees nothing but how beautiful her soul is and how much space she happily takes up in his heart. They give each other what no one else can give them--a little piece of God’s heart.

Yeah, Mom, we’re wrapping up. Just a couple more things.

When she is little, she loves being outside in the summer. She explores the world around her voraciously. She collects monarch caterpillars, bringing them home and stealing her mom’s mason jars. Which her mom isn’t too happy about. But knowing Yvonne, we know she thinks about the repercussions of that for all of two seconds, and steals the jars anyway. She knows that once the caterpillars are in the jars, her mom won’t toss out those l’il creatures. So Yvonne raises them to butterflies and releases them.

Flash forward forty years, she’s got this amazing summer cottage with a flower garden. She insists that there always be milkweed plants there for the monarchs to lay their eggs.

And then last week, Lora finds a monarch (Butters) that had been injured by the waves and rocks at the lakefront. She brings Butters to Don and Yvonne’s house. Butters can’t fly, but she can walk. She walks up and down Yvonne’s arms, making her smile for a few days before Butters moves on to the milkweed in the sky.

We feel like butterflies and monarchs are going to be her sign to us...that’s she’s good. That she’s watching. That’s she protecting, loving, and praying for us.

There are pages and pages more we could write. But we think we’ve captured our mom, Don’s wife, freaking incredible woman.

Yvonne is survived by the love of her life, Don; five troublesome, but adored, children: Edward (Amy) d.2018, Elizabeth, D.J. (Tara), James (Beverly), and Lora; eight incredible and beloved grandchildren: Eddie, Kelly, Shelby, Megan (Michael), Raven (Corey), Madie, Casey, and Will; two beautiful, great-grandchildren: Wyatt and Jaxon; and her adventuring, younger sister, Priscilla.

She would not want you to be sad for her for long. That wasn’t her way. So when you think of her, think of her laugh, the sparkle in her eyes, and those big hugs.

Yes, Mom, we’re finished. We love you.

So very much we love you,

Your Family

Memorial visitation will be held on October 3, 2020, at Proko Funeral Home from 11:00 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., Service at 12:45 p.m. To live stream Yvonne's service, please copy and paste into your web browser at 12:45 pm. She will be laid to rest at Sunset Ridge Memorial Park immediately following the service. In lieu of flowers, those desiring may make contributions to Hospice Alliance, in her memory.

Proko Funeral Home & Crematory
5111-60th Street
Kenosha, WI 53144
Phone: (262) 654-3533
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Service Details

  • Visitation

    Saturday, October 3rd, 2020 | 11:00am - 12:45pm
    Saturday, October 3rd, 2020 11:00am - 12:45pm
    Proko Funeral Home & Crematory
    5111 60th Street
    Kenosha, WI 53144
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email
  • Interment

    Sunset Ridge Memorial Park
    4300 Green Bay Road
    Kenosha, WI 53144
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email


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Julie and Jim Watson and Alicia Boknevitz sent flowers to the family of Estella Yvonne "Yvonne" Kaelber (Peterson).
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Posted at 07:00pm
MR. Kaelber, Lora, and family, We are so very sorry for your loss. You are in our thoughts and prayers.
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Julie and Jim Watson

Posted at 10:13am
We are thinking of you during this difficult time.
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Alicia Boknevitz

Posted at 07:55am
I am so sorry, Lo.
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